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The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek the Wise

12. Of the Killing of Heidrek and Hlod's Inheritance

It is told that King Heidrek owned certain thralls who he had captured on viking trips in the west. There were nine altogether. They came from great families and didn't think much to their captivity. One night, when Heidrek was lying in his bedroom, and few men with him, the thralls got hold of weapons and went to the king's lodging and first killed the sentries. Next, they went on and broke into the king's lodging and slew King Heidrek and all who were inside there. They took the sword Tyrfing and all the treasure that was inside and carried it off with them. And at first no one knew who had done this or where vengeance should be sought.

Then Angantyr, Heidrek's son, had a council called, and at the council he was declared king over all the lands that King Heidrek had owned. At this council, he made a solemn vow that he would never sit on his father's throne till he had avenged him.

Not long after the council, Angantyr slips away by himself and travels far and wide in search of these men. One evening, following that river which is called the River Grave, he comes down to a lake. There he saw three men in a fishing boat, and suddenly he saw a man pulling in a fish and yelling to one of the others to get him the bait-knife to behead the fish, but the other said he couldn't spare it.

So the first one said, “Get the sword from under the head-board and give it here.” And he took it and drew it and cut the head off the fish, and then he chanted a verse:

“The price was paid
by the pike at Grave River,
when Heidrek was slain
under Harveth Fells.”

Angantyr recognised Tyrfing at once. He went away into the forest and stayed there till it was dark. And those fishermen rowed to land and go to their tent and lay down to sleep. And near midnight Angantyr came and knocked down the tent so it fell on them, and then he killed all nine thralls, and took the sword Tyrfing, and this was proof that he had avenged his father. Now Angantyr goes home.

Next, Angantyr has a great feast prepared on the Banks of Danp, at a place called Arheimar, to honour his father.

These were the kings who ruled the lands then, as it is told:

Of old, they say, Humli
over Huns did rule,
Gizur the Gauts,
the Goths Angantyr,
Valdar the Danes,
the Romans Kjar,
Alrek the Valiant
the English people.

Hlod, the son of King Heidrek, was brought up with King Humli, his mother's father. He was of all men the finest in appearance and the most manly. And it was an ancient saying of that time, that a man would be 'born with weapons' or 'with horses'. This is because weapons which were made at the same time as a prince was born were said to be 'born' with him. So also with cattle, beasts, oxen or horses, which were born then. And they were all used in the honouring of men of great birth, as is told here of Hlod Heidreksson:

Hlod was born there
in Hunland realm
with brand and bodkin,
and long byrnie,
helm ring-welded,
whetted sword,
and horse well tamed
in the holy forest.

Now Hlod learnt of the death of his father, and at the same time that his brother Angantyr had been made king over all that realm which his father had owned. Now King Humli and Hlod were agreed that Hlod should go and claim his birthright from Angantyr his brother, first with fair words, as it says here:

Hlod rode westward
Heidrek's heir,
he came to the gates
of Gothland's fortress,
to Arheimar
heirlooms to claim,
there where Angantyr
drank to Heidrek.

Now Hlod came to Arheimar with a great army, as it says here:

A fellow he found
before the high hall
late outside,
then said to him:
“Go in there, my man,
to this high hall,
tell Angantyr:
come talk to me.”

The man went in and up to the king's table, greeted Angantyr well, and then said:

“Hlod has come here,
Heidrek's heir,
your brother armed,
as if for war;
big is that youth
on horse's back,
wants now, my lord,
a word with you.”

When the king heard that, he threw his knife on the table, and got up from the table and flung on his byrnie. He took a white shield in one hand and the sword Tyrfing in the other hand. Then there was a great din in the hall, as it says here:

Uproar in the hall,
they rose with the chief,
each strained to hear
what Hlod would say
and what answer
Angantyr gave.

Then said Angantyr, “Welcome Hlod, my brother. Come in and drink with us, and we will drink mead first for our father, for peace, and to the honour of us all with respect for each of us.”

Hlod says, “It wasn't to fill our guts that we came here.” Then spoke Hlod:

“A half I would have
of all Heidrek owned:
awl, spear-tip,
an equal share,
of cow and calf
and clanking mill,
slave and servant,
send their children.

Famous forest,
folk call the Mirkwoods,
the holy grave
on the Gothic highway,
that famed boulder
on the Banks of Danp,
half the war-gear,
that Heidrek owned,
land and people
and pretty rings.”

Then says Angantyr, “You have not come legally to this land, and your proposal is not a just one.”

“First will burst, brother,
the bright white shield
and cold spear
clash with spear
and many a man
will meet the grass,
before a half
to the Hun's son I give,
or Tyrfing ever
split in two.”

And again Angantyr spoke:

“I will bring you
bright spears
much wealth and riches,
all you could wish;
twelve hundred men I give you,
twelve hundred horses I give you,
twelve hundred servants I give you,
bearing shields.

Each man I offer
much to take home,
end up richer
than you can dream;
each man I give
a girl to have,
and on each lass
a I clasp a necklace.

There where you sit
I will cover you in silver,
upon you as you walk
I will pour down gold,
so rings shall roll
in all directions--
since you alone
will be lord over
one third
of the Gothic nation.”

13. Hlod and Humli Gathered their Forces

Gizur Grytingalidi, foster father of King Heidrek, was with King Angantyr and was then very old. And when he heard Angantyr's words, it seemed to him a bit much to offer, and he intoned:

“That's fine enough
for a thrall's son,
bairn of slaves,
though born a king;
a bastard sat
outside on the mound,11
while the prince parted

Hlod was enraged now, because if he accepted his brother's offer he would be called a bastard and the son of a thrall, and he promptly turned and rode away with all his men till he came home to Hunland and to King Humli, his kinsman, and told him that Angantyr, his brother, had not granted him a half share.

Humli asks about their whole conversation. He flew into a rage at the thought of Hlod, his daughter's son, being called the son of a servant. And he spoke thus:

“We'll sit the winter
snug and happy,
swap words and swig
some worthy brews;
teach Huns to fashion
fighting tackle
which valiantly
to war we'll bear.”

And again he spoke:

“Well shall we summon
war-bands for you, Hlod,
and back you up
boldly with soldiers,
with twelve-winter force
and two-winter foal,
so shall the host
of the Huns gather.”

That winter Humli and Hlod sat tight. In spring they gathered an army so immense that all Hunland was emptied of able men. All men who could wield weapons went, from twelve years upwards, and all horses from two. The host of men grew so great it could be counted in legions, and no less than legions in a division. And a chief was set over each legion, and a standard over every division, and five legions in each division, each comprising thirteen battalions. And each battalion was four times forty men. And of these divisions there were thirty-three.

When this army had assembled, they rode through that forest called Mirkwood which separates Hunland and Gothland. And when they came out of the forest, there was a wide settled country and flat plains, and on the plains stood a fine-looking fortress. And in command there were Hervor, Angantyr's sister, and Ormar, her foster father--they had been posted there as a guard against the host of the Huns, and they had there a great army.

14. The Fall of Hervor and the Gathering of Angantyr's Army

One morning at sunrise, Hervor stood on a tower over the fortress gate. She saw a great cloud of dust to the south near the forest, so that for a long time the sun was hidden. Then she saw something shining under the dust-cloud, and it seemed to her that she looked on gold: fair shields chased with gold, gilded helms and white byrnies. She saw then that this was the Hunnish army and a very great host it was.

Hervor rushed down and called the trumpeter and ordered him to sound the alarm and assemble the army. And then Hervor said, “Take your weapons and prepare for battle, and you Ormar, ride to the Huns and challenge them to battle before the south gate.”

Ormar spoke:

“Sure I'll gallop
grasping shield
and give battle
for the Gothic peoples.”

Then Ormar rode from the fortress towards the army. He called in a loud voice and bade them ride to the fortress, “And out before the south gate upon the plain, there I challenge you to battle. Whoever comes first will wait for the other.”

Now Ormar rode back to the fortress, and found Hervor armed and all the army ready. Now they rode out of the fortress with their army against the Huns, and there began a mighty battle. And as the Huns have a much bigger force, the slaughter turned to the Gothic side, and at last Hervor fell, and many Goths around her. And when Ormar saw her fall, he fled along with all who survived. Ormar rode day and night as fast as he could to King Angantyr in Arheimar. The Huns now take to harrying the land, pillaging and burning far and wide.

And when Ormar came before King Angantyr he said:

“From the south I've come
to say this news:
burnt's Mirkwood Heath
and the whole forest,
Goth-folk all blotched
with blood of men.”

And again he spoke:

“Down, I hear,
is Heidrek's lass;
heard your sister,
the Huns felled her--
and of your people
plenty more.

More cheery in battle
than chatting to suitors
or taking the bench
at a bridal feast.”

When King Angantyr heard this, he grinned and was slow to speak, but at last he said:

the bloody game
they played with you,
excellent sister.”

And then he looked at his household troop, and there weren't many with him. He said then:

“Many more of us
drank mead together;
but now in need,
our number's less.

I see no man
in my army
(although I ask
and offer rings),
who'll ride boldly
and bear a shield,
or hasten the Hunnish
host to find.”

Old Gizur said:

“I won't ask you
for any silver,
nor for jingling
jangling gold,
but I'll ride boldly
and bear a shield,
bring now to Huns
the battle-stave.”

It was a law of King Heidrek's that if an invading army was in a country, and the king of the land marked out a field with hazel twigs, so setting the place for battle,12 then the raiders shouldn't harry till the battle was decided. Gizur armed himself with good weapons and leapt on his horse, which was young. Then he said to the king:

“Where shall I point
the Hunnish people?”

Angantyr said:

“Point them to Dylgja
and to Dun Heath direct them,
and mark out all
the Mounts of Jass;
there Goths often
have given battle
and fine victory
they, famous, gained.”

Now Gizur rode off till he came to the army of the Huns. He rode no nearer than he needed to talk to them. Then he calls out in a loud voice and said:

“There's fear on your forces,
fey are your generals,
the battle-banner
above you looms;
wrath with you is Odin.”

And also:

“To Dylgja I call you
and to Dun Heath, so come
to battle under
the Jassar Fells.
A corpse be to you
on every horse.13
May Odin let the javelin fly
just as I decree.”

When Hlod had heard Gizur's words he said:

“Grab hold of Gizur
Angantyr's man,
from Arheimar.”

King Humli said:

“Messenger men
we must not harm,
wreak wrong on those
who ride alone.”

Gizur said, “Huns don't scare us, nor your horn-bows.”

Gizur spurred his horse and rode till he came to King Angantyr and went before him and greeted him well. Angantyr asks whether he had found the kings.

Gizur said, “I spoke with them and summoned them to battle, on Dun Heath in the Dylgja Dales.”

Angantyr asks how big an army the Huns have.

Gizur said, “Great is their host:

“Six merely
are the companies of men,
in each company
five legions,
in each legion
thirteen battalions,
in every battalion
four hundred and eighty.”14

Having asked about the Huns' army, Angantyr sent messengers in all directions and summoned to him every man who wished to support him and could bear arms. He went to Dun Heath then with his troops, and that was an immense army. There the army of the Huns came to meet him, and their host was twice as big.

15. The Battle of Dun Heath

The next day they began their battle and fought all that day and went at evening to their camps. They fought thus for eight days, with the leaders unharmed, but none knew the number of those who fell. But day and night more troops thronged to Angantyr's camp from all directions, so that he had no less men than he had at the start. Now the battle grew yet more bitter. The Huns became all the more desperate as they saw their position: that their only hope of life was to win, and that they wouldn't get much mercy from the Goths. The Goths were defending their freedom and fatherland against the Huns, and so stood fast and encouraged each other. Then, as the day wore on, the Goths made an attack so hard that the Hun ranks broke before them. And when Angantyr saw that, he charged forward out of the shield-wall and into the forefront of the enemy host and had in his hand Tyrfing, and struck down both men and horses. Then the shield-wall collapsed around the Hunnish kings, and the brothers traded blows. There fell Hlod and King Humli, and a rout broke out among the Huns, but the Goths killed them and they felled so many that the rivers were dammed and burst their banks, and the dales were full of horses and dead men and blood.

King Angantyr went then to search the dead and found Hlod, his brother. Then he said:

“I offered you, brother,
every treasure,
much wealth and riches,
all you could have wished;
but now for war
you've no reward,
for battle neither
bright rings nor land.

And further:

“Cursed are we, brother,
your killer I've become,
it will never be forgotten--
grim is the doom of norns.”


11. Sitting on mounds is what herdsmen did, and this is probably the implication intended. But it was also a symbolic practice of kings to sit on the grave mounds of their ancestors--so alternatively, Gizur might be suggesting that Hlod is getting ideas above his station.
12. To ‘hazel someone a field’ meant to challenge them to pitched battle (as in Egil’s Saga, ch. 52). Four poles of hazel wood marked the corners of the ground where the battle was to be fought. A similar practice was also used for duels between single combatants (see Kormak’s Saga, ch. 10).
13. Conjectural. The text may be corrupt here.
14. The numbers here do not tally with those given earlier in the prose.

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